For several months following an especially bad harvest, the people of Paris were experiencing bread shortages. This mainly affected the women since they were in charge of feeding their children and husbands. Armed with broomsticks, pitchforks, swords, and guns with no ammunition, the women gathered at the Hotel de Ville in Paris and demanded bread. They were hungry and frustrated, which eventually prompted them to make the 12 mile walk to Versailles and demand bread from the king himself (Shusterman, 50-51). Bread was not the women’s sole demand. They also had the goal of getting the King to approve the Assembly’s Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen (Dwyer & McPhee, 30). As a result of the successful march, the King returned to Paris with the people, and accepted the Decree of August 11 and the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen (Shusterman, 43). The Women’s March on Versailles holds significance in many ways. First of all, it shows the dichotomy between the lavishness of Versailles and the starvation people were experiencing in Paris. The women physically at Versailles signifies these two worlds meeting, and the detached monarchy finally facing the realities of the common people. The march also exhibits the mob mentality that was characteristic of the times. En route to Versailles, the women killed two soldiers protecting the palace and boasted their heads on pikes. This is consistent with the previous riots in Paris that also escalated to the point of parading public killings. Once the women arrived at Versailles, their rioting “was a mixture of protest and celebration” (Shusterman, 51). Their greeting of the king with both grievances and praise shows the politics of the time: at this point, the people only wanted to transition to a constitutional monarchy, not get rid of the monarchy entirely.
William Doyle, The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2001).
Noah Shusterman, The French Revolution: Faith, Desire, and Politics (Routledge, 2014).